Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Language of Dreams and Idols

Author and pastor Brian McLaren thinks that people's questions surrounding The Da Vinci Code offer clues to the Jesus people are searching for.
"For all the flaws of Dan Brown's book, I think in some ways he's suggesting that the dominant religious institutions have created their own caricature of Jesus. And I think people have a sense that's true," says McLaren. "I think the popularity of The Da Vinci Code is telling us that a lot of people don't find the image of Jesus that's portrayed by the dominant Christian voices genuine, so they're looking for something that seems more real and authentic."
(Brian McLaren of the Emergent Church, commenting in CT's Outreach May 2006 about The Da Vinci Code's popularity) [emphasis added]

"We are a spiritual womb of God's dream for this region to bring forth revival, transformation and reformation."
(Bloemfontein Ministers Fellowship
Vision Statement, South Africa)

Neoevangelical theological pioneers are much more sophisticated than their liberal mainline denomination predecessors several generations back. The liberal elite theologians developed a theological gobbledygook language that was so exclusive that only the highly-educated seminarians could possibly decode the meaning.

But the neoevangelicals have a new arsenal of techniques for the transformation of theology at their disposal. Borrowing heavily from the more recent theoretical research of social scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, linguists, political philosophers -- among others -- these advocates of "new ways" of "doing" Christianity are working to contrive new forms of speech, written word and even thought patterns. These leaders know that in order to transform the church, one must transform its language.

To place this activity in context, it is necessary to recognize it as a form of deconstruction. Deconstruction, according to Webster's New World College Dictionary (4th Ed.) is:

"a method of literary analysis originated in France in the mid-20th cent. and based on a theory that, by the very nature of language and usage, no text can have a fixed, coherent meaning." (p. 376) [emphasis added]

This topic is a heady subject, and Herescope will not do it justice in these brief blogs. In fact, this post will be quite simplistic. Some readers are already acquainted with this subject because of familiarity with educational reform issues.

The premise behind this change in language is to move Christians away from a text-centered faith -- that is, to move evangelicals away from the scriptural truth of the Bible. This blog has already noted the proclivity of neoevangelical leaders to create new words, new meanings for words, and new theologies. But to completely overhaul a language is a more aggressive strategy.

The Christian faith has always been anchored in written language, which is why literacy (defined as the ability to read and write) was such an important skill emphasized in the First Reformation. But now the neoevangelical leaders of the "2nd Reformation" (New Apostolic Reformation) are broadening the scope of language to include the verbal and nonverbal, signs, symbols, metaphors, parables, stories, dreams, etc. (This is the same broadening of the classical definition of literacy that has been going on in the arena of education reform.) To summarize, it simply means that leaders are changing the very essence of the Christian faith -- who God is, who Jesus Christ is, what the Bible (the written Word of God) is.

Good Christian men have wrestled for centuries to glean the most accurate and forthright truth from the Bible, desiring in their hearts to know the will and intent of God. Many of the old commentaries bear witness to the effort to glean God's most perfect meaning from the biblical texts so it could be applied to our Christian lives. But postmodern theological pioneers are shifting the paradigm (to use their terminology) and are now claiming that it is only necessary to "translate" God's word into contemporary "metaphors," "parables," "messages" and visual symbols. It is a "whole language" approach to interpreting Scripture. And it is the half-way step towards open idolatry.

For the end goal is to set up an "image" or a "dream" or an "idol" of Jesus Christ and God Almighty. Not a real Jesus or God, but a figure of imagination. To do this, Jesus Christ and God Almighty must be separated from the concept of the Absolute Truth of the Word (Bible), an activity which exemplifies the process of deconstruction. And the second stage is the task of reconstruction, substituting another "Jesus" and another "God" of the imagination: a new "God" and a new "Jesus" that can be visualized, envisioned, and dreamed collectively for a new kingdom; a shift in worldview where biblical terms and words become nebulous, no longer anchored to the Word, but fluctuating and floating upon the winds of "contemporary" cultural change.

Brian McLaren expounds upon this topic in Chapter 16 of his new book The Secret Message of Jesus (W Publ. Group, 2006), which is entitled -- appropriately -- "The Language of the Kingdom." He speaks of "translating… Jesus' message… into our world today."

To deconstruct, he claims that "kingdom language" is "not as dynamic today":

"In Jesus' day, kingdom language was contemporary and relevant; today, it is outdated and distant." (p. 139)

"…[I]f Jesus were here today, I am quite certain he wouldn't use the language of kingdom at all… which leaves us wondering how he would in fact articulate his message today." (p. 139) [emphasis in original]

What these statements are, in effect, saying is that the Bible is "outdated and distant" and that Jesus is not the Word of God (John 1:1). Note McLaren's next statement, where it becomes clear that the purpose for embracing a "secret message of Jesus" is because it has "radical tranformational potential today." Of course it does. The early architects of educational and social reform also viewed it necessary to have a radical overhaul of language in order to create a radical transformation ("revolution") of society.

McLaren places the job of "translation" into the category of an "artistic pursuit," which then gives his readers license to pursue a "deep understanding of Jesus' message but also a substantial understanding of our contemporary culture and its many currents and crosscurrents" (p. 140). To do this, he suggests the use of metaphors and has created six "metaphors of the secret message" of Jesus.

The first suggested metaphor conveys the essence of the language paradigm shift. McLaren calls it the "dream of God." Notice that this phrase is not anchored in the Word of God. McLaren describes it as:

"The Call to faith is the call to trust God and God's dreams enough to realign our dreams with God's, to dream our little dreams, within God's big dream. The call to receptivity is the call to continually receive God's dreams -- a process that, in my experience at least, seems to be a lifelong one.…" (p. 142)

"…For all these reasons, 'the dream of God' strikes me as a beautiful way to translate the message of the kingdom of God for hearers today. It is, of course, the language evoked by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. His dream was God's dream, and that accounted for its amazing power." (p. 141)

To begin with, this is not a factually correct statement. Googling this topic will reveal that King never used the phrase "God's dream." This one statement by McLaren, rooted in half-truth, perfectly exemplifies the problem of creating a nebulous new language of metaphors.

It is noteworthy that Rick Warren has used this phrase "God's Dream," and this fact is observed by ex-New Ager Warren Smith. He devotes several chapters (11 & 12) to this subject in his book Deceived on Purpose: The New Age Implications of the Purpose-Driven Church. Smith commented on the esoteric significance of this particular metaphor, "God's Dream." He has now updated this topic with new material in his "Chapter 10 Update" posted at Reinventing Jesus Christ: The New Gospel.

To understand the significance of how this language transformation process works, let us do a simple grammatical exercise using common and proper nouns. Notice the difference in meaning:

apple -----> God's apple

kingdom -----> God's kingdom

dream -----> God's dream

purpose -----> God's purpose

peace -----> God's peace

Notice how simply putting the word "God's" in front of any word suddenly makes it a weighty proposition. The neoevangelical language gurus also know this, too. Which is why they'll use these phrases, loaded with extra-biblical meaning, to communicate their agenda. It works much like a slogan does in advertising. Furthermore, when they develop symbols or logos, or new stories and/or metaphors to communicate these ideas, then there will be added weight.

The Truth:

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that Eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)" (I John 1:1-2)